Visual arts project offers "something to ponder"

Fine Arts

- John Threlfall

Xue. Photo: John Threlfall.

It sounds like a riddle: what has six legs, was built for camping and can walk on its own? The answer, however, is no joke—it’s actually the incredibly complex final project of visual arts BFA graduate Xiao Xue.

Aptly titled “Something to Ponder On: A Walking Camper,” Xue’s project is exactly that—a classically Canadian truck camper unit, enhanced by six electric-powered robotic legs that allow it to walk independently. Inspired by a fascination with insects and a friend’s prosthetic leg, Xue has created a remarkable piece that truly gives the viewer something to ponder.

I'm more interested in doing than just knowing, and that's what visual arts offers.

“Xiao’s walking camper is a highly sophisticated artwork that brings together her poetic, even poignant, vision with matching research and technical skills,” says visual arts professor Daniel Laskarin, one of Xue’s instructors. “This piece is among the finest that any graduating student anywhere might produce.”

An international student from the Chinese city of Urumqi, Xue came to UVic with practically no pre-existing art background. As such, she’s an ideal example of the invaluable skills a fine arts education offers: by combining creative thinking and critical evaluation with hands-on learning, collaborative partnerships and sheer determination, she’s not only achieved the practical goal represented by her project but has also earned admission to the master in fine arts program at the University of Guelph.

“I make structures with revealing structures,” she explains. “In nature, all organisms that rely on a parasitic relationship need a host to survive and, once deceased, they are no longer seen if they are apart from the host.” The same can be true in human society, says Xue—as represented here by a camper disembodied from its truck.

No question, Xue’s piece was the hit of this year’s graduating BFA art show in April. Constructed at a cost of approximately $4,200, her 2,400-pound walking camper was financed through a combination of crowd-sourcing, scholarships, bursaries and outof- pocket expenses.

She also had the assistance of a fellow student in the mechanical engineering department, the support and sponsorship of local machine shop Rainhouse (“This project wouldn’t have happened without them”) and the resources of the visual arts department itself.

“It was a consistent learning experience with the [visual arts] technicians. I had a great four years spending time with them.”

Xue describes the seven-month project, undertaken alongside her other classes, as “a non-stop troubleshooting process” involving hundreds of hours of sketching, welding, woodwork, electronics, 3D modelling, maquette construction and people management.

“I start with the final image in my mind and then reverse-engineer it based on what I can afford.”

Of her time at UVic, Xue says she’s “more interested in doing than just knowing, and that’s what visual arts offers.” But her walking camper offers something dif ferent again: a slower pace to provide the viewer a meditative opportunity conducive to pondering.


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Keywords: convocation, graduation, student life, visual arts, arts

People: Xiao Xue

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